Matthew 19: 23 – 26 (NLT)
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
As a little girl I adored my Savior. I devoured my Bible, worshipped with my whole heart and loved, like my missionary parents, to share Christ with others. I was rich, incredibly so. As a preteen my Bible became a painful companion, I walled off my wounded heart and avoided engaging fully in relationships. I was poor, incredibly so, but wasn’t letting anyone into that poverty, ashamedly believing it defined me as unloved and irredeemable.
But the beautiful gift God has been giving me in my return is this – a deeper and deeper understanding of the necessity of human poverty – to come to know Christ.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. (2 Cor. 1:8–10 NIV)”
“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. (Ps. 146:3–5)”
For since returning to my LORD and Savior interestingly God has been putting me in repeated positions where I have been given the choice to be obedient to Him and be rejected and even shunned by man or be disobedient to Him and be loved and accepted by man. And in my obedience my heart has endured repeated wounding. A wounding that as a child caused me to turn inward, sit in hurt and condemn myself. I listened to the lies of the enemy, feeling safer bathing myself in self-condemnation than in the love of Christ. It was easier to believe I deserved God’s wrath than His grace – because let’s face it, I do. But that’s the stunning nature of grace, isn’t it?! Not one of us deserves it and yet God gifts it to us freely- we do not and cannot earn it.
Now, all these years later, as my heart has been ripped open again and again, I have repeatedly fallen prey to this old survival mechanism – the safe of numbing, self-condemning and hiding and in the process also deeply hurting those around me with my selfish and even prideful responses. But God hasn’t let me stay there. As Mary DeMuth puts it in The Wall Around Your Heart:
God’s heart for you is wholeness. He wants you to be more than merely a walled-off survivor. He longs to see you thrive in the aftermath of others’ pain. And He understands. Jesus felt the sting of rejection from all of humanity. He experienced more abuse than we can comprehend. And at His most painful moment, the Father turned from Jesus for the first and only time in an agonizing aching of the godhead. Jesus understood betrayal like no one else, and He is waiting to move you beyond your self-protection into a life joyfully lived for others. This doesn’t mean you’ll never suffer. It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never experience relational pain. But it does mean that you’ll find yourself walking with Jesus, who walks behind you (where the abuse happened), beside you (as you process the pain), and before you in the glorious future (beyond the pain). If you will allow Him, He will heal you, strengthen you, and give you the abundant life He promised. But first you must let go of the healing process, of managing it in your own strength. Give Him the reins of your healing. And trust Him to build His kingdom in you—a kingdom full of excitement, adventure, and risk.”
And what I have found fascinating to discover is that precisely the pain and sting of betrayal believers feel when their loved ones become Prodigals, is also the pain and sting that causes most Prodigals to turn their backs on their God and Christian community in the first place. We are suffering the same kind of pain and betrayal, but do not realize it. You see, our enemy is actually the same enemy. And this enemy loves to place a wall between us, making us focus on each others’ sins, and not on who we – even our Prodigals – are in Christ. For we are all chosen, called and fully redeemed by the blood of Christ, irrespective of the hurt we have caused or suffered from.
As a returned Prodigal I have been so tempted to shut myself off from all Christian community because I have seen so many suffering believers in the church – particularly those walking through mental illness in the wake of abuse or loss – be judged, belittled and held back from knowing the heart of God for them and the beautiful calling He has entrusted them, even now. The focus has been on these children of God’s need to be “healed” or “freed” to become “true believers”, to become people who God can accept and use. And yet:
Colossians 2 (NLT)
13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed[d] the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
Proverbs 11: 27 (ESV)
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.
Let me ask you this. If a Prodigal truly knew who Christ is and who she or he is in Christ, would he or she be running away? If a person suffering repeated storms of emotional trauma due to horrific abuse or loss was encouraged to know who Christ is and who Christ says he or she is, would he or she feel so condemned and ashamed as the wind and waves hit? Would there be so many children of God shuddering in fear and weeping ashamedly behind closed doors?
John 17: 3 (ESV)
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
1 John 4: 18 (ESV)
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.
I can tell you that I would not have fled, had I truly known who God is – had the Holy Spirit and God’s Word defined who He is in the pain and trauma I experienced as a little girl. And as I have since walked through the excruciating path of mental illness (PTSD) after losing my Mum to brain cancer and am having to relearn how to respond to pain and fear in a healthy manner, I can definitely say that I would have long turned away from God again if I had once again placed my trust in myself (and my self-condemnation) and other believers (and their judgement and condemnation). But thank You, Jesus, for as Mary DeMuth so aptly puts it in The Wall Around Your Heart:
“Our gift to Him isn’t our ability; it’s our inability. It’s our weakness, our surrender. Our letting go of micromanaging our lives and controlling others’ lives and giving Jesus full control. After all, He is God, and we are not. And how do we do that? Simple. By kneeling. By praying. By hollering and whimpering our needs, wants, pains, bewilderments to Jesus. That’s the safest place to be, knees to the earth, hearts bowed and broken, in a position of humbleness and readiness.”
Oh what a gift I have found in letting God – His Word and His Spirit- guide and lead me through the hurt I have faced:
- in allowing HIM to define safe boundaries for me,
- in HIM opening my eyes for untruths being taught in the church,
- in HIM removing me from relationships and environments that were keeping me saddled to pain and shame,
- in HIM leading me to weep and weep and weep before His feet and to flail safely in His arms until I had no more strength left (in the vision I experienced during EMDR therapy),
- in Him leading me to write Biblical Laments again and again and again, to pour out my heart before Him unashamedly and invite Him into my pain and wounded, deceitful heart (see: https://margaretfeinberg.com/broken-heart-god/)
- and in HIM teaching me to keep returning to Christian community – trusting in HIM and not man (and that includes my own deceitful heart 😆) – when all I’ve wanted to do is give up and walk away
- and in the process He is opening my eyes to the hurt of His children who have fled the church, giving me opportunities to witness to unbelievers who God remains even when we, God’s children – yes, me too, so much so!!! – mess up.
“God won’t let us stay safely in our churchy cocoons. He pushes us out. And sometimes He uses pain in the church to do that.”
Mary DeMuth, The Wall Around Your Heart
The Holy Spirit enables the impossible- and that Holy Spirit is inside us AND our Beloved Prodigals – for our God tells us that He remains faithful in our unfaithfulness because He cannot ever disown Himself – Jesus Christ in us 😊. No, nothing is impossible for God:
Luke 1: 34 – 37 ESV
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[a]
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[b] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Oh Father God, Abba Father, thank You that You are a God who sees us, knows us and empathizes with us in our suffering. A God who does not condemn us, but calls us to keep returning and resting in Your love and freely given grace. Father teach us to truly start believing You at Your Word, and empower us by Your grace to refuse to give the enemy a foothold in our lives and our churches. Help us to encourage one another to come to know You – our Lord and Savior – more and more through a personal and intimate relationship fed by Your Word and Holy Spirit. Press us deeper and deeper into knowing You – the incredible joy of our salvation and our FREEDOM in Christ Jesus right here and now. Thank You that You call us come before You as we truly are: poor and in DESPERATE need of Your love, mercy and empowering and healing grace. Keep driving us to our knees to discover Your strength, Your love and Your beauty – the perfecting of Your holy power in our desperate weakness. And help us to never ever boast in our human strength, but always and ever in our weakness and Your saving, healing and empowering grace. In Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.
Let’s discover the gift of our poverty and worship God in Spirit and truth:
Lyrics: “I am your anchor, in the wind and the waves
And I am your steadfast, so don’t be afraid
Though your heart and flesh may fail you
I’m your faithful strength
And I am with you wherever you go.”
Lyrics: I confess I still get scared sometimes but Perfect Love comes rushing in and all the lies that screamed inside go silent the moment You came. Now I’m letting go. I’m letting go. I’m letting go. Falling into You…You remind me of things forgotten. You remind me until I’m totally undone with Your arms around me. Fear was no match for Your love. Now You won me over.”
Lyrics: “I will dare to believe that anything is possible. I throw caution to the wind. It’s time to risk again. I will dare to believe that anything is possible with Jesus. I exalt thee. I exalt thee. I exalt thee, O LORD.”